Japan’s strange bedfellow feeling happy with an appeasing Tokyo

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, shakes hands with Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi prior to the Japan-Mekong Summit Meeting at the Akasaka Palace State Guest House in Tokyo Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. /AP-PTI

Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the erstwhile darling of international community, is in Japan now on an official visit. Her audience with the Japanese leadership will allow her to solicit Tokyo’s support for shielding her country against international criticism, which is quite widespread these days because of atrocities the regime is committing against Rohingya minorities in the state of Rakhaine. However, the visit is being undertaken at a bad time for the Myanmar leadership. It was only in last week that the Canadian parliament had taken the decision to revoke honorary citizenship that the country in the past had offered her. It was during the time of her struggle against military dictatorship that Canada extended the generous offer, which Ottawa now feels has been tainted due to what is happening in Myanmar these days. Moreover, the Nobel Peace Prize announced last week is being seen as a fitting tribute to those calling for imposing a mandatory ban on rape at the time of war and civil disturbances. The world community has seen by now the evidences of gang rape that many Rohingya women had been subjected to and the perpetrators are soldiers of the armed forces of the country under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi.

But such allegations of extremely serious nature seem to have little impact on the conscience of the Burmese leader, as she routinely launches verbal assault on those criticizing her for being a party to such criminal acts. Speaking to Japan’s public broadcasting agency NHK just before leaving for Tokyo, Suu Kyi had categorically denied doing anything wrong against Rohingya minorities by saying that “there are many people who do not even realize what the situation in the Rakhine state alone is like, let alone in the whole of Myanmar. But these days, it’s always quick fixes and instant gratification. Everything has to be done immediately and quickly.”

Yes madam, when people die as they are chased from their abodes like cattle, when women become victims of gang rape, and when children turn orphans overnight, there is an urgent need for quick fix. You simply cannot deny this responsibility by saying that the situation is much more complex than what we see from outside.

Contrary to the position being taken by most of the Western nations concerning Myanmar’s ruthless crackdown on Rohingya minorities of the country, Japan is ironically quite sympathetic to the Burmese leadership and Suu Kyi is getting a mindful audience in Tokyo that she was not sure enough of getting in New York. A personal assessment to that amount had prompted her to avoid a trip to deliver a speech at the United Nations General Assembly last September. A sympathetic Japan has no doubt had worked as a stimulant for her, as refer to a call coming from a number of sources asking the Nobel Peace Award Committee to revoke the Peace Prize over her failure to stop human rights abuses on Rohingya minorities, she did not hesitate to claim in the same interview that, “I don’t care about prizes and honors as such…Prizes come and go.” She also tried to explain that what she sees as a true friendship is a relationship based on understanding, rather than rushing to own judgment.

Many in international community are wondering what is prompting Japan to be so kind and soft to a leadership that no doubt has committed crime against humanity by systematically violating the rights of Rohingyas? To find an answer we need to have a brief look at the economic and strategic potential of Myanmar, as well as position of some other countries on Rohingya issue. Japan had been investing in Myanmar even before the last general election that paved the way for Suu Kyi to become the de-facto leader of the country. For quite long in the past, Myanmar had been under the grip of civil war, a situation that discouraged foreign investment. However, with the launching of limited democratic reform, Japan rushed to the country with the aim of taking advantage of the untapped natural resources. There is also the China factor that further prompted Japan to inject massive amount of ODA and private sector investment fund with the aim of winning over the country to its side. Beijing also made it no secret of its support for the Burmese regime, a position that places China in an advantageous position concerning its relationship with Myanmar.

This is probably one of the main reasons why Japanese leadership is resorting to a cautious standing over disturbing developments of the recent past. This position of Japan was quite clearly reflected in an article in Washington Post written recently by foreign minister Taro Kono, where, while praising the compassion and generosity of the people and government of Bangladesh for accepting refugees, he also did not failed to mention that, “many are busy criticizing the Myanmar government for not taking the necessary steps quickly enough. However, what the international community has to do right now is not to criticize, but to patiently support Myanmar’s own efforts for the early, safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation of refugees. The peace and stability of Rakhine State cannot be realized without solidifying democracy and human rights in Myanmar. The international community must not short-circuit Myanmar’s evolution toward democracy.”

It is more than a year now that Bangladesh has been compelled to shoulder the burden of a million plus refugees. If a year-long time is short enough for a government to understand what it did wrong with its own people, then that same government will probably never come to realize what are bad and what not. This is the message that the Japanese government needs to convey to its Burmese counterpart, not the appeasing appreciation for doing very little in a relatively long period of time.   Moreover, democracy does not end with electing a government of peoples’ choice. If the elected government fails to protect those who are in need of protection against an unjustified backlash of the majority, democracy in that situation becomes meaningless and non-functional. This is exactly what is happening in Myanmar. Supporting whole heartedly a non-functional democracy will no doubt lead to another dead-end, probably more vicious than what had been before. For, it has the support of the majority, as it had been the case with the Third Reich.

(Tokyo, 9 October 2018)

  • Japan’s strange bedfellow feeling happy with an appeasing Tokyo
  • Monzurul Huq
  • Issue 14
  • Vol 35

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